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A new partnership in Prince George’s County is working to make tech jobs more accessible and affordable for low-income, minority and women residents. With a scholarship fund initiative launched last week, Prince George’s County residents can apply for scholarships for high-quality boot camps in coding, data analytics, cybersecurity, UX/UI or digital marketing at George Washington University.
Lanham-based global education technology company, 2U, in partnership with Employ Prince George’s, the principal workforce development entity for Prince George’s County, came together with George Washington University to create the Access 2 Education Scholarship Fund as a way to help Prince George’s residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In January, Prince George’s County had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state — 3.2%. But as COVID-19 spread across the country, the rate peaked at 10.9% in May, and in October the county’s unemployment rate was sitting as the highest in the state: 10.3%.
“We’re in this exceedingly complicated time right now where there are really challenging circumstances for lots of folks,” said David Sutphen, 2U’s chief strategy and engagement officer. “If we are going to come back stronger, I really genuinely believe that we are going to have to figure out ways to get private industry, education community and government to work together in innovative new ways to solve these problems.”
2U and Employ Prince George’s are hoping to equip residents with the skills needed for in-demand careers in industries where women and minorities are historically underrepresented.
“If you look at the data, women and minorities are severely underrepresented in IT in the DC metropolitan area,” Employ Prince George’s CEO Walter Simmons said. “We want to bridge that gap. We also want this to be open to low-income individuals.”
The scholarship covers 65% of tuition — taking the average cost of an $11,000 boot camp down to $3,500. A 24-month, interest-free financing option will be available to help with the remaining cost.
The scholarships are available for any adult in Prince George’s who is interested in a career in tech-related fields: including recent high school graduates, young adults and those who are recently unemployed.
The initiative has raised about $60,000 so far, with donations from local businesses like Gilbane Building Company and Element 84. Simmons says business leaders hope to raise $40,000 more, and eventually expand the effort to help hundreds of people go into the tech sector.
“That’s something we need more of: private sector businesses investing in their communities,” Simmons said. “We are hoping that more businesses will step up as an investment to create their future workforce.”
Sutphen says there’s no requirement or expectation for businesses that want to support the scholarship from the front end to commit to hiring someone. “But most companies looking to fulfill tech talent are also looking to diversity talent pools, and we hope that these graduates would be sought after,” he said.
County residents can apply for the scholarship through the end of this month for courses beginning in January and February 2021. Each applicant will be chosen by a review committee made up of members of the community — about 20-30 applicants will be chosen for the first cohort.
“What excites me the most is the potential for this partnership to be an example for other states to bring higher education, business and government together to meet the needs of those looking to get back on their feet and into a sustainable job in an area where there is real job growth and opportunity,” said Sutphen.
Applicants can apply here.